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Remarkable and Versatile Sedums

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'Autumn Joy' Robert E. Lyons ©

‘Autumn Joy’
Robert E. Lyons ©

The rocky cliffs in the mountains of North Carolina have some tough growing conditions. Shallow rock depressions contain a thin layer of soil that has formed or washed in over the years. The soil dries to a crisp between rains. Sedums, also known as stonecrops, will tolerate these conditions and this toughness makes them almost bulletproof in the garden.

North Carolina is home to 10 native or naturalized species of sedum. At least 8 species, originally hailing from Japan, China, Korea and the Caucasus Mountains, are available in local nurseries with 60 more species and numerous cultivars available by mail order.

Sedums are customarily divided into low-growing and upright species. Low-growing species such as Sedum acre (goldmoss) are traditionally used as groundcovers and in rock gardens. It is a good choice for green roof gardens, a popular trend on flat-roof surfaces to improve surface water runoff while cooling the building. Foliage can be the main reason for planting low-growing sedums but their flowers can be equally rewarding when selected carefully. The color varies from burgundy bronze on some species to pinks, whites, grays or greens on others. Flowers commonly are yellow or gold but Sedum brevifolium has pinkish white flowers and Sedum sieboldii ‘Dragon’s Blood’ has red flowers.

'Dragon's Blood' Robert E. Lyons ©

‘Dragon’s Blood’
Robert E. Lyons ©

Upright species include Sedum spectabile and Sedum telephium, also know as “live forever” or “orpine.” These are used as specimens or in a mixed perennial border. Flowers on the upright sedums are red, pink or white. These flowers will attract butterflies. The dried seed stalks are persistent and decorative through the winter. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a well-known upright cultivar with pink flowers that seem to be a favorite for bees. All sedums are suitable for containers.

Both the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA) Perennial Border and the outside areas of the Lath House contain sedums. Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ has particularly lovely flowers that stand vibrantly against any surrounding green foliage.

David Goforth